by FRANK LOWY
Australian multiculturalism is bigger and stronger than what happened in Sydney at the weekend. When people come together from so many cultures, it is inevitable there will be some discord.
In Australia, we have had this in the past and we will have this in the future. What happened at the weekend was brought about by a complex combination of factors which all countries must now deal with, not just Australia.
These include a more globalised world. The use of the internet and social media, in this case to issue an international rallying call. And the manipulation of sensitive issues by people who set out to provoke.
While the protest was made possible because we have a multicultural society, this eruption did not devalue the powerful dynamic of multiculturalism which has been developing here for more than 60 years.
It did, however, remind us that multiculturalism is a work in progress and needs constant attention to meet contemporary challenges.
The internet and social media can and will be used for sinister purposes. Isolated incidents in far-away places can now quickly become international events. The forces of globalisation are unstoppable. But we can and should find ways to modify the way these forces impact upon us.
Our reaction, as a nation, to the weekend’s events made a good start.
Consider what happened:
The police were there to monitor a peaceful protest, but met violence with resolve. Our political leaders were united in their condemnation of the violence. They made it clear that while Australia was a tolerant society, there would be zero-tolerance towards that kind of behaviour. The leadership of the Muslim community, and the vast majority of Muslims in Australia, were clearly dismayed at what had occurred and also condemned the violence.
And the Australian community as a whole reacted with such revulsion that the perpetrators can be left in no doubt that there is no place for this kind of behaviour here, and never will be. Far from being an assault on multiculturalism, last weekend can be a sign of the strength and maturity of our multicultural society.
Multiculturalism is precious to Australia, but there are ways we can improve it. Before we talk about this, let’s understand what constitutes multiculturalism. I believe its richness comes through individual experience. Everyone who comes to our shores is shaped by the experiences that preceded their arrive. How they interact when they get here shapes them further and, in turn, reshapes our country. This happens over and over again, millions of times, and slowly builds our rich multicultural society.
Australia is the most multicultural nation in the developed world, and we are familiar with the statistics. 27% of the population was born overseas. Nearly 50% of the total population are either first or second generation migrants.